The Vatican has announced that Louis and Zelie Martin, the father and mother of Saint Therese of Lisieux, will be canonized. That means they will be recognized as Saints by the Catholic Church. The celebration will take place during the Synod on the Family in October.
The Glossary in the back of the larger edition of the Catechism of the Catholic explains canonization this way:
“The solemn declaration by the Pope that a deceased member of the faithful may be proposed as a model and intercessor to the Christian faithful and venerated as a saint on the basis of the fact that the person lived a life of heroic virtue or remained faithful to God through martyrdom.”
In the text of the Catechism we read this further explanation:
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“By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.
“The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history.” Indeed, “holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal.”
No matter the process of recognizing Saints officially – which has evolved over time, – from the earliest centuries men and women, who have lived lives so conformed to Jesus Christ that they reflect Him in life and death, have been especially honored. They are examples who inspire the Christian faithful. They put legs on the Gospel.
Because the Church has always taught that death does not separate the faithful, they have also been viewed as our brothers and sisters, praying for us from their place in heaven. (See, Romans 8:37-39) They are that “great cloud of witnesses” which the author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews writes about. (See, Hebrews 12:1)
The Church teaches that all Christians are called to be saints. The word, as used in the New Testament, means holy ones. All Christians are called to holiness of life. Yet, there have been relatively few married saints officially canonized by the Catholic Church.
That is changing.
With the emphasis of the Second Vatican Council on the universal call to holiness, there is a return to the roots of the ancient Christian faith. That has included a recognition that married men and married women – and married couples – can live lives of heroic virtue. And, many actually do!
Further, that holy married men and women – and married couples – need to be held up as models, examples and intercessors, for all of the Christian faithful. Particularly in an age which has lost its soul and is turning away from the Lords plan for marriage in its downward slide into nihilism and idolatry.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect or Leader of the Vatican Congregation which oversees the process of recognizing and presenting saints for official canonization, commented on this decision to canonize a married couple together.
He put it simply, “Thanks be to God in October two spouses, parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux, will be canonized. Saints are not only priests and nuns, but also lay people.”
Louis and Zelie married in France in 1858. They had nine children. Five entered a consecrated or religious life in the Church. We have 218 letters which were written by Zelie. They record the naturally supernatural pattern of a very real, human and devout Catholic family.
The Martin family lived through war, economic collapse, struggles, joy, celebrations, and both the births and deaths of children. In other words, they lived a real life in a real world. However, they lived it in the Lord and in the heart of the domestic church of the home. It was right there, in the stuff of daily family life, where they became saints. That is the point.
They practiced hospitality, cared for the poor, and lived a devout Christian family life. They played, prayed, laughed and suffered. In and through the love of God, made manifest in their domestic church of the home, they made the Risen Christ visible to others. Their domestic church was a cell of the whole Church, and revealed the love of Jesus Christ for His Bride.
Zelie suffered from cancer. She died at 46. Louis was left to raise five daughters. He died after suffering a difficult form of mental illness. Therese, who was very young at the time of her mother’s death, remembered her as a saint. Now, the Church is telling the world the whole story and sending a marvelous message about marriage and family life.
Therese is the Patroness of the Missions, even though she never even left her enclosure in the monastery. She was the daughter of Louis and Zelie, where she learned about Jesus and His call in her life. The two are connected.
We need to remember that the roots of her sanctity go back to her family life. Her call to what she called the little way began in the domestic church of her own home.
Therese is deeply loved by Pope Francis. St. John Paul II proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church, even though she had no formal theological training. Pope Emeritus Benedict beatified her mom and dad on October 19, 2008. That was the last step in the official path to their canonization.
This act of canonizing a married couple TOGETHER is a prophetic act in an age which has turned away from marriage and the family as the plan of the Creator. That plan is confirmed in the Natural Law, and was elevated by the Savior as a sacrament, vocation and means to holiness.
From antiquity the Christian Family has been called the domestic church. Perhaps the most quoted use of the term is from the “Golden Mouth”, the Bishop John Chrysostom, writing in Antioch (the city where they were first called Christians, Acts 11:26) in the fourth century.
After all, the church is fundamentally a relational reality, “when two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.” said the Lord. (Matt. 18:20) Also, at least within the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, Christian Marriage is a Sacrament. In other words, it is a participation in – and sign of – the Life of the Trinity!
It is also a source of grace for the spouses, calling them to holiness by teaching them the path of selfless love. As the Apostle Peter wrote to the early Christians, we are “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1)
We were baptized into the Lord Jesus Christ and we now live in His Body. The Christian family IS a church, the smallest and most vital cell of that Body. The extended church community is a family of families.
This understanding of the Christian family is more than piety–it is sound ecclesiology, solid anthropology, and is meant to be experienced as reality for those who are baptized into Christ Jesus.
For those called to live their Christian life in a consecrated Christian marriage, it is in the domestic church where progress in the spiritual life finds its raw material. The question we face every day becomes whether we live Christian marriage and family as a Christian vocation by responding to grace.
For those called to Christian marriage and family life as a vocation, there are often hidden invitations to love found beneath the surface of the daily stuff of Christian Marriage and Family life.
The Greek word translated “emptied” in a profoundly important Christological passage in the letter to the Philippians is “kenosis.” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning our call to enter into the self-emptying of Jesus:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself “(Phil. 2:5)
This Greek word refers to the voluntary pouring out-like water-of oneself in an act of sacrificial love. This “emptying” is the proper response of the love of a Christian for the One who first loved us.
It is also the beating heart of the vocation of Christian marriage and family life. There is a domestic kenosis, a domestic emptying out which comes in the ordinary stuff of daily life in a Christian family.
There is also a domestic ascesis, a way of living an ascetical life, when we embrace the real struggles involved in living this out way of life as a vocation in Christ. That is experienced through the real sacrificial love involved in raising children, having our hearts broken, and simply going through all of the travail involved in parenting – which never ends.
Parenting can unfold into grand-parenting, and the invitation to love continues and changes. When lived vocationally, in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is a way of love, a way of sacrifice and giving- and love can sometimes hurt.
We need to move from the realm of fuzzy feelings or theological theory to reality – the emptying is lived out – in a unique and grace filled way – in Christian marriage and family life.
As Christian spouses, mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, we need to have our eyes opened like the disciples on the Road, the way, to Emmaus, whom we read about in the Gospel. (Luke 24: 13ff)
This call of married love and family life is more than a covenant (though it is that), more than an ordinance (though it is that) – Christian Marriage is a Sacrament, a participation in the very life of God through which and for which we are given grace, the very Life of God.
It is an invitation to learn the more excellent way of love of which the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians. (1 Cor. 12:331) It is a call, a vocation, to holiness.
When the right choices are made in this life of “domestic kenosis”, we exercise our human freedom, empowered by grace, and choose to give ourselves away in love to the “other.” In so doing, we are gradually transformed into an image, a living icon, of Jesus Christ and we participate in His Kenosis, his voluntary self – emptying.
This way of holiness is not easy, as anyone who has lived the vocation for more than three months can attest, but make no mistake; it is a very real path to holiness. It is also a wonderful one. The true challenge lies in the choices we make, daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment.
Two trees often appear in the garden of domestic life. They both invite the exercise of our human freedom, our decision to choose. There is one which resembles the one in Eden where the first Eve said, “no I will not serve.”
We are always tempted to choose the fruit of this tree of self centered-ness whenever we seek to hide from the call and refuse to love, by emptying ourselves – kenotically.
Then, there is the one that resembles and actually participates in the tree on Calvary, where Christ the New Adam embraced the whole world and began it anew.
There, where the second Eve,(as the fathers of the Church called Mary, the Mother of Jesus) stood with the beloved disciple John, beheld her crucified Son and her Lord, Love Incarnate, and again proclaimed her Fiat, her voluntary yes to the Lord.
In doing so, Mary models the response for all Christians and all time, in all states in life and vocations.
As it was with the Mother of the Lord, (both when the angel Gabriel came and made that extraordinary announcement, and again on that mountain when she beheld her Son and Savior), the choice to say Yes to God is our own. It is to be made daily, even hourly, right where we are.
With these choices, presented to us from the moment we open our eyes every morning to the time we close them at night, we proceed on the way of the Cross through death and into the eternal now of Resurrected life in Jesus Christ.
We are invited to live Christian family life as a domestic church. We are also given the grace to do so. The choice is ours. However, we desperately need models and examples. May the canonization of Louis and Zelie be the beginning of many, many more married saints.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.